It’s been almost a month now, and that seems like a useful distance from which to reflect on my first conference experience. Also, like everyone I know, I have been juggling multiple roles and responsibilities and feel like I am just now getting “caught up” – whatever that means – with my academic life after giving it a ridiculous amount of attention in late May/early June and then having to ignore it while I got all my other ducks in a row. So now I’ve had some time to think over what I saw and heard and see what has stuck with me. It probably won’t have the accuracy that an immediate response would have had, but here goes.
I attended the Graduate Research Network, 8 sessions, all three keynotes, and the welcome dinner (with roller coaster!)
I had the incomparable Cindy Selfe at my table and might have said something like “I don’t believe in multimodal assessment! Students make things and share them with the class, and they don’t need me to put a letter on it for them to know whether it worked!” She -and everyone at my table – was very patient with me until my hysteria died down, and then they helped me think about some readings and approaches that might help me get at a better articulation of my concerns. I’m… still articulating them. Watch this space!
I’d like to highlight three of the sessions I attended, and some of them will surely be reviewed over at the Sweetland DRC, so I’ll add those links as they post
I squeezed in just a few minutes late to the packed presentation room for B5 – PLZ RT: Networks, Performances, and Games on Twitter with John Jones, Cate Blouke and Michael Widner. I only caught the end of Jones’ presentation but was intrigued by his argument about how people use hashtags on twitter to communicate subtle messages and how even though the alliances through twitter hashtags may be temporary (perhaps even contentious), that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have failed. Cate’s presentation in five acts with the live twitter stream behind her was entertaining and thought provoking: asking us to consider how we might perform our academic identities with instead of for, blurring that line between writer, text, performer and audience, creating a “theater without spectators.” Widner had planned a twitter zombie game, but his repeated testing of the program earlier that morning ended up locking him out by the time the conference started. Instead he walked us through the code, explaining the few categories necessary to create a social game and the beauty of writing code for both machines and humans to read. Coding as creative writing.
In session C6, Jason Palmeri and Ben McCorkle presented their preliminary data for Multimedia and the Teaching of English, 1912-1970: A Distant Reading of English Journal which I was very excited about because I’m doing something similar for my first year exam. They were absolutely delightful to watch and the various ways that they coded and represented data were really helpful to see. I left the presentation with a dozen ideas for my own project, but I wish I was working with a partner because I’m a little discouraged by the sheer amount of work that coding all the articles can be. They were investigating the representations of multimedia assignments in English Journal prior to the digital age, identifying trends that closely link historical events and technological advances with classroom practice.
Kyle Stedman, Bill Wolff, and Tekla Hawkins dove into remix, twitter, fanfiction and theories of composition and community in K1, which was well attended and heavily tweeted even though it was in the last time slot of the conference. You can watch video of it here. Stedman’s presentation was especially novel. He played short audio clips and explained the phenomenological contributions of sound to composition (and confounded the room by pointing out that lasers don’t make the expected swishing or pinging sound that science fiction movies have led us to expect). Bill Wolff examined the twitter community of Bruce Springsteen fans and asked “What are tweeters doing?” He identified practices that historicize, notify, and perpetuate community norms and information as well instances that build intertextual communications. Tekla Hawkins suggested that the increasing popularity of fanfiction demands the need for closer attention from academics and that fan compositions work as a remix practice, drawing from the canon as a database and creating something new.
I liked several things about Gee’s keynote, specifically that he pointed out that while we are talking out of one side of our mouths about the importance of education for employment, we are ignoring the realities of employment and income inequity in America. The sorting function of the American education system is made to level children, and as students’ skills increase, the leveling mechanisms adapt. There will always be a top 10%. There will always be a bottom quartile. We measure people and imply that if they aren’t measuring up, they are at fault, which is disingenuous when we routinely change the measures to make sure that there is a distribution. I think he’s right that we seriously need to rethink the structure, purpose, and promises of education.
I take a tiny bit of issue with his notion that “games talk back” in ways that texts don’t. There is, of course, an interactive element to games, but they are still scripted and limited, with edges defined by the “text’ of the game, the imagination of the game-maker. Still, I suppose they give you a more embodied experience than traditional text.
I’m revising my review for Sweetland, and I’ll link to it once it’s posted. Remembering that everything we do online is supported by commands written in text seems like an important starting place for people who want to think about what it means to be a digital writer. I bought a Unix guide for OS X. I’ll let y’all know how it goes.
I thought the quality and variety of presentations was impressive. I appreciated the opportunity to talk with people whose work I had read and admired and found the faculty in attendance really committed to mentoring new people in. I had great conversations with people at every turn, especially about pop culture and fan culture communities online. I’ve had no formal training in digital publishing or coding, but I’ve been participating in fan communities and trying to make blogs on various platforms do what I want for ten years now, so I’m fairly well-situated to follow those conversations, and I really, really want to know more. I feel like #cwcon was a place for me to watch other people think through the digital marvels of everyday life, and I hope I have something ready in time to submit for next year.